Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 01

"Keeper of the Cup" Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame wipes down the Stanley Cup before the presentation. (Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
There is no more exciting scenario in hockey.

An 82-game regular season schedule and four rounds of playoff action, and the entire 2008-9 season came down to one single contest. Two outstanding teams, both yearning for that elusive sixteenth victory that will allow them to be forever known as the 2009 Stanley Cup champions.

And if that drama wasn't enough, these same two teams battled fiercely in the Stanley Cup final one year previous. The victor and the vanquished, meeting one year later, now both knowing what it takes to call yourself a champion.

Trying to avoid clich├ęs is difficult when the entire season came down to one final contest between two worthy opponents. Do or die. There's no tomorrow. Leave it all on the ice. No regrets.

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Nathalie Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux pose for a photo with the Stanley Cup. (Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Stanley Cup final expanded to a best-of-seven series in 1939. Since then, the Stanley Cup has been awarded after a seventh and deciding game on just fourteen occasions. In 1942 and 1945, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Red Wings won the championship in a seventh game in 1950, 1954, and 1955. Toronto's Cup win in 1964 took a seventh game to clinch. Montreal's win in 1971 happened after a Game 7, as did the Oilers' victory in 1987. The Rangers won the Cup in seven games in 1994, as did the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. That was the situation when the New Jersey Devils won in 2003, and in 2004 when the Tampa Bay Lightning laid claim to hockey's most cherished prize. Previous to this spring, the last time a Stanley Cup was decided in Game Seven was in 2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won their first franchise championship.

On Friday, June 12, 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven at Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City. There were detractors who didn't think the series would get to a seventh game after Detroit took Games One and Two with matching 3-1 scores. But the Penguins returned home, regrouped and delivered their own twin scores of 4-2 in Games Three and Four. The Wings spanked Pittsburgh 5-0 in Game Five, followed by a Penguins' victory in Game Six, setting the stage for the clinching game.

Maxime Talbot and Sidney Crosby
hold the Stanley Cup.
(Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Just 73-seconds into the second period, Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot beat Chris Osgood to put the Pens up 1-0. At 9:54 of that same period, that same sniper added goal number two — the eventual Stanley Cup winner — with a blast over Osgood's glove into the far side of the yawning cage. Talbot, who had been teased about his "little bit bad hands" by teammate Evgeni Malkin, circled around the Detroit net and fell to his knees, pumping his gloved fist as he celebrated.

Detroit persevered, but Pittsburgh executed a near-perfect game to foil the Wings. Losing Sidney Crosby to a knee injury mid-way through the second period didn't unhinge the Penguins. In fact, having Sidney looking on as a spectator may very well have made the team more resolute in their desire to cradle Lord Stanley's Cup. Jonathan Ericsson scored for Detroit at 13:53 of the third, but still the Pens seemed unflappable. Likewise when Niklas Kronwall's deflected shot kerranged off the crossbar behind Marc-Andre Fleury, who reached back to thank the iron. "It made a big save for us," Fleury told CBC's 'Hockey Night in Canada.' In fact, Fleury stood on his head through the game, ensuring the victory celebration with a diving block on a Lidstrom chance mere moments before the final buzzer.

Mathieu Garon and Marc-Andre Fleury
of the Pittsburgh Penguins following their team's Stanley Cup win in Game 7.
(Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The game ended and a sea of white jerseys converged on Fleury in the Pittsburgh crease. The win ended one dynasty. There is every reason to believe it could signal the beginning of another.

* * *

The Stanley Cup arrived in Detroit from Pittsburgh on the eve of Game Seven. Just after the opening faceoff, both the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy were whisked into the Joe Louis Arena unobtrusively and spirited away into the officials' room.

The Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe were polished to a breathtaking sheen. As the game ended and the Penguins celebrated, the Conn Smythe Trophy was carried out to center ice, where National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman awarded Evgeni Malkin with the trophy as the most valuable playoff performer. Malkin collected 36 points to lead all playoff performers. "It's a big day (in) my life," the 22-year-old commented, beaming. "My friends, my parents are happy. I'm happy."

Head coach Dan Bylsma, Bill Guerin and Mario Lemieux pose with the Stanley Cup. (Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Next, the majestic Stanley Cup was marched down the red carpet, Hockey Hall of Fame executives Phil Pritchard on one side and Craig Campbell on the other, both bedecked in requisite blazer and white gloves. With the Cup placed on a table at center ice, Gary Bettman took the microphone and commented, "It takes a great champion to be a great champion. Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins." In closing, he said, "Sidney Crosby, you will be the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup," and handed hockey's greatest prize to Pittsburgh's exuberant number 87. Crosby, even more than a child waiting for a gift at his birthday party, could hardly wait to grasp the Cup, and with a smile that lit up The Joe, accepted the trophy, hoisting it over his head in triumph. "It's actually a lot heavier than I thought," stated the man who had carried the team, and now was carrying the Cup. "Our team battled so hard throughout the whole year; to be on the losing side last year — this is an amazing feeling!"

Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin
hoist the Stanley Cup.
(Craig Campbell/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Cup was handed from player to player, coach to coach, trainer to trainer. Each held the Cup just like he had dreamed of doing since childhood. While all received sizable ovations in equal portions from the attending Penguins' fans and the lingering Red Wings' fans, one exceeded most others. When the Stanley Cup was handed to Mario Lemieux, the cheers grew deafening. As a player, Mario helped bring the Penguins to respectability, leading them to Stanley Cup championships in 1990 and 1991. Defeating cancer while continuing his extraordinary playing career, Mario earned induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Then, with the franchise teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Lemieux debuted as an owner and rescued the Penguins for Pittsburgh. While the players earned their moments of glory, no one deserved this championship more than Mario Lemieux.

The Penguins stayed on the ice for hours, sharing their celebration with family, friends and fans who saluted the new Stanley Cup champions. At 12:30, the last of the players trekked into the dressing room, only to be welcomed with a spray of champagne. The overstuffed dressing room was buoyant with celebration. Bill Guerin beautifully expressed the value of the moment. "Remember back in New Jersey?" he asked, recalling 1995. "I thought this was going to happen a bunch of times. And here I am, lucky to be winning the Cup again. You have to enjoy the moment, because you never know if you'll get another."

Rob Scuderi drinks out of the Stanley Cup.
(Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The room emptied by 2:00AM, and the Penguins flew home to Pittsburgh. But on landing, the team went directly to continue the party at Mario Lemieux's home. As dawn broke, the players and families made their way home. Coach Dan Bylsma took the Cup to breakfast over at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. Ray Shero, the team's general manager, later picked up the Cup and took it to a restaurant for lunch.

That evening, the team enjoyed a private Stanley Cup party at the ironically-named Mario's South Side Saloon. Up on the second floor, the boys and their families could enjoy the victory, unwind a little and shoot some pool. Jordan Staal decided he wanted to take the Stanley Cup across the street to thank the fans in the Diesel Club. But in an age of Twitter and texting, a modest crowd quickly became a mob. More than 3,000 people converged on the South Side to see the Penguins and their Stanley Cup. Streets were quickly jammed from the traffic. Fans in jerseys stood on vehicles to catch a glimpse of the Cup. It seemed that it was at that very moment that the Pittsburgh Penguin players truly grasped the magnitude of their victory. It took police officers with dogs to create a path for the Stanley Cup to leave the area at 1:00AM.

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The Penguins' summer of celebration was initiated in fine style. In our next journal entry, we'll take you out to the ballpark, then join in the Stanley Cup parade.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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